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Chris Stewart

Collective Architecture's Chris Stewart discusses his overlapping roles as architect and member of the Scottish Ecological Design Association in promoting green design to a wider audience.

Fortnightly Blog - Gold, Consciousness and Poor

December 30th, 2016

If you invested one Roman dinar at the birth of Jesus Christ by the death of Karl Marx it would be worth the weight of planet earth in gold. There are many variations of this statistic but the message is the same, capitalism is unsustainable and we are witnessing it's death.

We all have read that Nero played the fiddle as Rome burned, insured against arson this kickstarted an economic recovery of the Roman Empire. This included the construction of the Coliseum which became the classic device for controlling the mob through popularism. Today all is far more subtle and we live in a world of Neoliberalism of which very few are conscious.

The result is a world ever more divided, the rich are getting more rich while the poor get more poor. When were these new set of rules written, and who brought them down to us. Are we forced to follow this new star or dare we construct our own. These are thoughts of biblical proportion however we should at least try to fathom them and challenge our own methods. If we could all resolve to make one short step,change will result, may we begin;

A long time ago a man who thought a lot, we will call him Wittgenstein, wrote a book (his only book) called Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. He knew his book was flawed however he wrote it never the less, to show that humans to explain the world need to construct systems. These systems when viewed from afar cast a net or often better described as a cage across the world. The cage is limited by a number of factors, language being the most important, and the cage is constructed by a specific community usually sitting at the top where the air is more rarified. The constructs produced by the rarified become how this world exists. Wittgenstein knew this was nonsense and in itself a construct, to the extent that half way through writing the book he realised that humans were unable to construct anything better than God (or the omnipresent one), after all the world is not flat.

Unfortunately in too many respects we live in this nonsensical world which is not real but our own construct. Much of our constructed cage slips around us without us even knowing, hands up who has heard of Neoliberalism. Some say this Neoliberalism is a fiercely guarded secret guising as a biological law, a kind of Darwinian theory of evolution which has now become a truth. Neoliberalists believe competition is our defining characteristic and our democratic choice exists only in what we can buy and sell. Limit competition and you limit liberty, collective bargaining and organised labour is a distortion of this market and hinders the natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Wealth trickles gratefully down from the bold to enrich everyone and those with all the advantages of class, education and inheritance now embrace the nouveau riche when a hundred years ago they were shunned. Together they claim to have earned their unearned wealth through hard won entrepreneurialism. Those who fall behind become defined as losers and can only blame themselves.

Architecture is one of the key building blocks of our brave new constructed world, where the rarified stare through the looking glass and reinvent our language. Affordable housing is unaffordable, regeneration is any form of privatised development and sustainability can mean almost anything you wish it to. One of the rarified recently pulled back the veil, Mr Patrik Schumacher director of Zaha Hadid Architects and author of ‘Free Market Urbanism - Urbanism beyond Planning’  speaking at the recent World Architecture Festival in Berlin, proposed as a solution to the housing crisis in London; an end to social housing, scrapping regulations and the privatisation of public space. Headline grabbing, but it at least allowed us a glimpse back through the looking glass to a self correcting, self regulating, self organised neoliberal architecture and like some hideous Dorian Gray it stared back. For those who dare look Mr Gray in the eye I recommend ‘The Architecture of Neoliberalism or how architecture became an instrument of control and compliance’ by Douglas Spencer.

Right now we live amongst the breakup of Europe and the rise of plutocrat-populists such as Trump, somehow architecture needs to steer away from neoliberalism and return to clear environmental strategies. For our cities, which have been the most affected, this will require greater participation in urban programmes, understandable spatial structuring of cities and most importantly the vision to be wary of Kings bearing gifts.


The Architecture of Neoliberalism by Douglas Spencer is published by Bloomsbury Publishing as per the link below

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